Category Archives: God

Still time to talk

Last Thursday marked ‘Time to Talk’ day. For some time beforehand I had told myself that it would be a good day to blog again to get people up to speed with my own health.

Then, because of my own health, I was not up to it on the day. Yep.

And, because of my own health, it has taken a disproportionate length of time to get this done at all. Ah, yep.

You may not be bothered about reading about mental health, or interested in why I behave the way I do these days. Please don’t feel any obligation to read on. I am not fishing for sympathy or even trying to make excuses. I would like to put down my thoughts on this blog, however; it is a difficult subject to bring up and worthy of some attention. Mental ill health is an invisible condition.

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Since I got very ill in 2013, I have learned that I fail if I rush. I fail if I push myself too far. I fail if I get in a cycle of negative thoughts, eating habits or lack of discipline. I succeed only if I carefully pace life, keeping at things, finding the positives, respecting myself and living by faith, so it is still worth putting this blog post up even on the wrong day. Especially on the wrong day.

Every day can be a wrong day when you battle with the non-newtonian fluid that is time with a cloudy mind. I have no idea what day it is normally; it isn’t so important if you can’t juggle more than one thing well. To counter this I have lists and routines to ensure children are fed, dressed and delivered to and collected from school or clubs. Not knowing the day is like a mist that many of us experience when we’re busy. This state however is what my own mind is like most of the time. A dense fog. It’s out there, but I don’t know where to look – when I cannot see where I am going, I go to autopilot for many tasks. I cannot see where I have been either, as my memory is very patchy.

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I make an effort to make myself remember things, but you may see me struggle to recall something from last week, last year or childhood, which may then suddenly come back into my head days later with real clarity.

That can be frustrating, unless I see it for what it is and allow myself longer to remember things; I only hope I’m not called up in court to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ when what is available to me is ‘the whole truth as I perceive it today, although there may be more I cannot yet access’. When I’m on a roll with an activity or in the zone mentally on a specific project I can sometimes stay focussed for far longer than usual, but as soon as I stop, that’s it. Gone. At other times I struggle to concentrate on a TV programme or a film or a book I’m reading. I don’t know why this is.

So when I do push myself too far, what does ‘failure’ mean? When my mind clouds or my memory or plans don’t make sense, that is. It is a sense of being lost, but it is also a lack of being able to function or be present in the moment. It is as if large parts of my mind are frozen. I can see tasks all around me but not only can I not arrange which order to do them in, but I cannot see how to do any given one. I have to reduce my focus intentionally and heavily against the flow of my wandering mind to one specific activity, and then hope and pray nothing comes along to throw me off. As I have a naturally divergent mind this can be quite draining mentally. If I am low emotionally it just costs too many spoons to achieve much in a day.

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My daily spoon allowance is probably around 20 going by the chart here (which is not entirely accurate for me, but gives a general idea). My limits are nothing like as serious as dealing with the effects of ME, fybromyalgia or any of many other invisible illnesses, but it is real. If I give you my time, I will honestly think it is worthwhile doing so. If I don’t, it may well be down to self-preservation.

As an introvert, I love people, but I just don’t always love being around them. Being with people saps my mental resources very quickly. When I am very ill I cannot be around even my immediate family until I’ve recharged (currently this happens at least twice a day), and being in groups pays a very heavy toll; I need to make time to be alone on my own terms for several hours if I have had to be around a large group or in a space where I could not get away from people. This limits going into town, social events, sports, potential work situations and affects the rate at which I can do voluntary activities.

I get anxious internally, panicky and confused. Really confused. I may mess about or be facetious just to manage to remain in a place with others. Or I might hold one of my children close so that I don’t need to take responsibility for anything I can’t focus on. I forget things and my mind needs stimulus without saturation – so I find my foot tapping or my fingers moving about. I start to believe that I am not capable or that my slow pace of progress on tasks will mean I cannot achieve good things without a lot of support. The idea of making a phone call fills me with dread; even answering one can take a spoon or two from that day. I remind myself that I used to be a high-achiever and try not to blame myself for the slow going I find in my life today. I am writing a book. Even aside from the regular discipline needed for writing, I am having to be kind to myself when other things crowd in and use up the resources I have on any given day. Perhaps this will change in time, but until then I have to be content with baby steps and finding purpose and affirmation instead in the trivial and mundane activities I do at home or the exciting and useful things I do at church or out and about.

When I burned out nearly four years ago I was able to access counselling which was wonderful for talking over areas of my life that had caused hurt and working through some irrational thinking patterns. This has helped enormously. However, despite the counselling, and despite loving friends and family, an understanding doctor and appropriate medication (I tried to live without it for a year and am now back on it), I have realised that my mental health may be something which colours a huge amount of what I do. Where I was once highly attentive, I am frequently now oblivious. Where I was able to focus, I find I get overly tense and exhausted easily. I open many tabs in my mind (and on my computer) so that I can feel some sense of accomplishment, but do not finish all the tasks and forget what I am trying to do when I have to go off and collect the children or cook or see to the pets. As a result I start lots of ideas and struggle to maintain them.

I survive on cups of tea, on kind words, on prayer, on the promise of a book to come, on incremental improvements, on medication and on each of life’s many joys.

In the fog, joyful events and sad moments can each come as surprises. But I can also lose the sad moments more quickly as they get forgotten, and enjoy what is good by focusing hard on them and planning good things which will come around and surprise me.

The experience is like walking by trust with little sight, unaware of quite how the next chapter is going to unfold. It is not an experience I would have chosen, or would want to remain in any longer than I need to, but it is familiar now and I can work with it.

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(photo by Ian Furst)

 

Tact and the Real Message

“I know how you’re feeling,” came a voice from somewhere close, “and I do feel really sorry for you.”

And my heart grew and I forgave her words because she is my daughter and this is her best. They were not hollow words spoken with an adult’s urgency to fix or with undertones of self-interest. She has little idea of nuance and tact.

So when she says ‘I know how you’re feeling’ she honestly believes she does. Perhaps she does have a sense of the colour of depression or the pain of its bite. I pray she does not know the full injury of it in her lifetime, or at the very least in her childhood. Oh little one, I sincerely hope you do not know how I am feeling.

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What touched me enormously was that she would even try to comfort me with words, though her pity was not what she was really trying to convey. The message I heard loud and clear was “I love you mummy”, which actually was the message I really needed to hear.

Messengers get shot frequently by those bitten by depression. In recent years I have learned to listen to the message behind the message. It’s not about the most well-chosen words, though for me at least they often bring the best relief. It’s not about connecting either, though finding common ground can bring hope and joy; I’m no longer journeying alone on this day. ‘I do feel really sorry for you’ can mean so much more than ‘I recognise your struggle and I hate it too and I hate that you have this fight on your hands and I pity you’. No, the act of being present, of communicating at all – in some age-appropriate manner, this is what brings light to my heart and salve to the bite-marks. My son spends time on my lap. My husband quietly washes up. My daughter tells me she knows how I am feeling.

And I stand back from my heart and marvel that God would bless me so much, whispering his love to me in so many ways each day – using even children so honest because of their lack of tact – and I give him my griefs and my deepest aches, because he is strong enough to carry them all. And though I crave tact and good words, I crave the real message more now and I pray my words too will speak love and that that love will be heard.

 

House-hunting Outside the Box

 

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My dad calls it divergent thinking, but I suspect my need to think outside the box in any and every situation has been a large part of my mental health issues these last twelve months. If I have one thought it spreads like a firework. If I have a box of thoughts, I need plenty of space to watch all the fireworks.

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When I got very ill twelve months ago the fireworks fizzled and fell. I had to accept limitations and let go.

This letting go has not come about lightly: there are a dozen areas I would like to do more in, a hundred people I would like to help, a thousand things that need thinking through.

But I am learning to let go. Let go of ideals I cannot reach. Let go of people who hurt me. Let go of wrong self-image. Let go of anger. Let go of trying to ‘achieve’ to impress. Let go of turning up the heat. The cold never bothered me anyway.

I am now at a stage where I need to harness what is good and right about my divergent thinking. The instant creativity when I’m in a good place and Joe decides we need to make an apple tree from things in the kitchen, for example. Or helping Lily remember a new times table. Or finding a recipe for ingredients we already have in. Being academically thorough because it hurts not to. Little baby steps that indicate I’m heading in a good direction.

And I’m part of a great team. My husband is single-minded and inspires me to focus rather than diverge. As a result we now have a great ‘get the house ready for viewings’ system, including keeping things in sensible places, having empty drawers at the ready for items on surfaces and not panicking when the ‘wrong’ load of washing is doing as I know it will all get straightened out soon and that I’m going to be ok whatever the outcome. Just keep swimming, Lucy.

We are convinced that God’s purposes are driving our endeavours to relocate, so the emotional energy I have can be spent focused on practical and reasonable tasks. Today Joe and I got to toddlers; a wonderful opportunity to see friends and how things have developed in great ways there. Later this afternoon I showed the fifth couple in eight days around our house. It used up all I had left emotionally. Corners have to be cut elsewhere: manageable cleaning and tidying, efficient use of time, time off alone, not counting the calories, not stressing over what I cannot control. Improvements are evident in lots of directions, for which I am utterly grateful, even when pushed to my emotional limits.

One task I love doing is house-hunting, and I go at it with a combination of God-driven purpose, single-mindedness learnt from my husband and outside-the-box problem-solving techniques I can’t help but bring to the table. One of my sustaining strengths is writing and it appears that another is researching.

Cycle of Grace

Armed with access to the internet and a couple of clever spreadsheets, I review the houses that have appeared on our search radius on a frequent basis. They are constantly changing as we are moving to an area of short supply and high demand. A house we viewed at the weekend is currently in a bidding war and already at  £43,000 above the asking price, days after appearing on the market. We did not bid on it, as we cannot buy until we sell. But I am making sure I do my outside-the-box homework. Systematically.

Rightmove is the most useful of the property search websites I use, with their various search tools, floor plans, school distance maps, and invaluable Saved Properties feature. Zoopla is better for learning about sold house prices, with interesting heat maps and information on what sold in various streets if you are prepared to work through in detail when you are serious about a property. As we are searching within a target geographical area we’ve realised it also pays to get registered with local agents who send you information ahead of homes appearing on the market and to check their own websites, which update sooner than Rightmove.

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We like to know how long a property has been marketed, and whether the sellers have changed agent at some stage. While EPC checks on the energy rating are some use if they have a date, they are valid for up to ten years so weren’t necessarily produced for the most recent sale. We downloaded a toolbar from Property Bee (which uses Firefox) with a sidebar listing price changes and number of weeks on the market. Fascinating stuff. As our own house is proving to be a niche market, we know this doesn’t prove everything, but is useful to check out whether a property has not sold for some months, so that we can check why that might be and whether the vendors are willing to consider a lower offer.

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If a house looks promising, I like to familiarise myself with the area. Nothing beats driving or walking around in person, but some useful sites for getting extra information from a distance are Google Maps (especially with Street View and to check distances and routes by car, foot, bike or public transport, which may impact upon the children as they get older), Bing Maps (for Bird’s eye views of the location from North, South, East and West) and the Environment Agency‘s pages on flood risks from rivers and elsewhere. Online regional planning information is useful to determine the scale and dates of development for a property, currency of local greenbelt, the year the street was built and an indication of whether extensions of one sort or another might be granted. Wikipedia is a surprisingly good source of information on village life if there are links to local community websites as well as history of the area.

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I have learnt a lot about school catchments (including relevant high schools) from Cambridgeshire’s education admissions website, and we applied for Joseph’s school place based on data we picked up online as well as a couple of visits. If he should not get any of our three choices, we will be able to find out quickly where there are spaces in both his and Lily’s year groups for September so that they can be together if possible in another local school. Ofsted reports and data tables tell you a certain amount, as do schools’ own websites, but going around a real school and meeting staff there, as well as learning about schools from local people where possible are much more fruitful. We have also taken a keen interest in location and websites of churches in the places we’ve been looking at, as a strong community church will have a big impact on us as a family and we’d like it to be not too far to travel to. Hakuna Matata, as they say.

So, lots of things to keep this divergent mind happy in a useful way on days when I want to crawl into my mindspace all by myself and shut the door. When we are moved I know what my next project will be, as I am preparing a book. However, I cannot write a book and move house and raise a family at the same time. I have learnt to let go and focus on what is best. Freedom within fixed constraints allows me opportunity to thrive and feel useful. I am moving from the first quadrant in the Grace Cycle (Acceptance) to the second (Sustaining Strength). I am allowed to write. I am allowed to research. I have a value and a purpose, and I feel like a room without a roof.

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Scripturient…

scripturient…Possessing a violent desire to write.

There are a number of passions or desires in my heart at present. For example:

  • selling our house at the right time, for the right price;
  • buying the house that fulfils all we need it to and plenty of what we’d like it to;
  • finding a great job for my husband as we relocate and that the timings will mean we aren’t stuck for a mortgage;
  • getting a school place for Joseph for September, preferably in the village we move to;
  • getting a school place for Lily, preferably at the same school;
  • packing, decisions, legal aspects, finances;
  • this huge trust adventure, which makes all of the above seem utterly possible, in part because there is no way we can engineer it well ourselves.

Over and above all of this is my passion for relating more closely to God and the beat of his heart. He has given me a truly wonderful partner in Matthew – someone I look up to, treasure and want to support in all his great work. He has given the two of us two remarkable little ones: beautiful, sassy, creative, funny and intelligent kids who brim with vitality and have taught us all we know about how little we know.

The beat of God’s heart has taken me to serve in places abroad in the past, and back to home pastures too. It has brought me through pain to hope, over and over again. It has surprised me, made me laugh, broken my heart for the needy and hurting and given me strength when all strength seemed spent.

The beat goes on, and in this season the rhythm reminds me of my passion for written communication. For unlocking and expressing beautiful truths and making sense of things others would love to understand. The cycle of grace I wrote about in November has taken me into a place of creativity and a blossoming of ideas which I want to unpack. I will have to learn how to unpack these gifts well, so the process won’t be immediate. But I cannot ignore it. I am so excited.

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Video

Father I place into Your Hands

Today I discovered that I could not apply for the school places for Joseph out of county quite as readily as we had hoped. We cannot apply through Cambridgeshire if we do not live there, or have two applications open. We can apply to out of county schools through the Suffolk application website, but only if they list them. All three we preferred were not on the (extensive) list of primaries.

And having made two (count them…. two!) phone calls to numbers beginning with ‘your call is important to us’, I emailed Suffolk for advice.

It wasn’t simple: we need to apply online as we are away on the results day and may need to action Lily’s school place or house move details immediately, or make decisions about the second round applications. We are trusting that God is calling us to a specific area. We have already visited some schools and have plans to view more of the area this week. And the deadline is in 8 days.

I got an out-of-office reply stating that Suffolk were away and might take ten working days (count them… ten!) to reply. This could indeed affect our chances.

We’d already stepped out of the boat in faith. We’d already taken risks. There’s no Janus look-both-ways option here. If you try and run back to the boat you won’t stay up.

So I called on my friends, and my friends reminded me to call on Jesus. His Grace continues to cover me and carry me Outrageously. He lifts me, dries me, laughs. And 60 seconds before I’m supposed to be at school (count them… 60!) the phone rings. Withheld number. Might it be Tony, our regular wrong-number guy, calling for Peter, desperate for a visit? Or a company wishing to extol the virtues of government-encouraged schemes and am I in the 55-85 bracket? Or my sister, calling from colder climes?

Usually I ignore Withheld. Today I picked up. Today a lovely lady from Suffolk explained how she’d fixed the problem, approved of our pragmatism and was utterly professional. Their call was important to me. Thank you Marie Withheld from Suffolk. And thank you friends who remind me to face the right way when stepping out of the boat. And thank you Jesus for the outrageous grace – again.

 

Something New

Time for new things. I hope you like the new look of the blog. In case you can’t remember, it used to look something like this:

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Now I am intending to get a lot better I have updated a few things and will improve the site over coming weeks.

It has been a tough Christmas for all kinds of different reasons, but God has been present in it all and family members and friends have been heroes, despite losing dearly loved friends lately, coming home from a long journey to find the power had been off and all kinds of anxiety. I dipped a lot emotionally in December but am able to cope a little better each day and am excited about the new year. So, instead of a resolution for the whole of 2014 I am resolved for just one day to take things one step at a time. To serve my family and a few others around us and not put undue pressure to do any more than that. Then tomorrow, I may or may not make a similar resolution.

Thank you for all your kind and precious words over this season – I know something great is going to happen, and this is only the beginning of the beginning.

to you

Finding your Treasure

I am on an amazing j0urney. I thought my testimony might have finished when I gave my life over to the One who gave it to me. In fact, it was only just beginning. I have journeyed through valleys of death’s shadow, known fierce ups and crushing downs and needed affirming over and over again, like the wayward sheep that I discover myself to be. I have left wool on so many barbs, thirsted for water I cannot find alone and ached in the depth of me for meaning and purpose. My fears have left me irrational and hurting and my anxieties have stolen my nights and my days.

Only recently have I been discovering the depths of meaning of some very familiar things. Verses I thought I understood and lessons I had not internalised.

I would love to explain this. So, to humour me, try imagining Paisley. Not the town, the politician or football manager. Imagine the pattern of Paisley. Try and draw it if you can. No – really. And no cheating. You probably know what a paisley pattern looks like. You would recognise it immediately in any colour scheme. I am not going to put an image of paisley on here just yet. See if you can remember the detail.

Something can be familiar and yet so difficult to recall and reproduce. Perhaps we never studied it in depth. Or we did, but a long time ago. Or we are ignorant in the first place. Perhaps we want to be able to recall something but it is not possible. We remember some of the major parts – a tear drop? A double line? Some swirly bits?

I think life is like that. There are many familiar pieces of great advice for living. But for all kinds of reasons we don’t action what we recognise as truth, no matter how familiar. For me, advice like not leaning on my own understanding – this is so difficult in an age of easy access to information. Or recognising that God loves me just as I am completely and utterly, and that this is real grace. Or that there are things I cannot change, but God has it all in His hands. That patience grows with time.

Trying to live a purposeful life and be all you were meant to be is hard if you attempt it in your own strength. Or perhaps if you follow selfish treasures. Try finding treasure without a map. It’s not unlike trying to remember and recreate something that is beautiful and complex. In the end you give up or get it wrong.

So what are your treasures?

Today I saw my son make an X with two sticks of chocolate. Proud of himself, finding fun everywhere, this fantastic little boy brightens my day so often. Where is my treasure? My family. Yes. The chocolate. Most definitely. But X marks the spot. My treasure is in the empty cross. The empty tomb (cenotaph).  I love all these things in utterly different ways. I can treasure sweets, sweetypies and the sweet grace of knowing I am safe forever.

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I have treasure in Heaven – this is so exciting, but I also have passions and dreams on Earth. Desires for my family, for my friends, for my society. Desires for personal fulfilment. Desires for God’s kingdom to be seen more in our lives and for us to know Him deeper.

So what are your treasures? What are your desires? You are allowed to have dreams – God has created you uniquely and placed passions in your heart. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. I have been swimming in the shallows and I am keen to get out into the deep, use the passions and discover the treasures God has marked out not only for me, but for us as a couple and for our family while we raise them. For too long I’ve been relying on my own strength. So God has been teaching me to Trust more. To allow his Grace to flow in and through me. To live utterly on His understanding, not my own. To trace the pattern he already marked out for me, and to stop arguing or resisting. And in doing so, to find that I could really become who I was always meant to be. My counsellor recommended a book to me called Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge. It’s not for everyone. But it has been gently challenging and helping me.

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There I was, hoping I could impress people by doing what I felt duty-bound to do. It led me to study courses I didn’t want to study (and on occasion could not pass). It led me to live behind masks and battle with self-doubt. It led me to choose to lose the dreams.

Until God allowed me to burn right out and cry out to Him for all I needed, some six months ago.

And his grace – allowing me to be truly me – is just astonishing. There are dreams we are now going to pursue as a family. There are depths to God’s goodness which should not be surprising to me but which break my heart as He reveals more of Himself and His love to us. There are times when I wobble, but God picks me up, embraces me with His provision (friends at church, at home, in the community, in books and in music) and sets me upright again.

I am on an amazing journey. As I re-order my life to be charged up from God’s grace and love, rather than in pleasing others (see previous post) I discover He does deliver. I am going to do more writing. I am also beginning a new blog, which I will let you know about shortly. I am trusting utterly in God’s timing and provision for our next move as a family.

My treasure is in Jesus and in allowing Him to unlock me fully. What is your treasure?

Ah yes, and there’s also this. Or if you want a long and fascinating look at Paisley doodling, this.